Interview with Jim Balthazar, Nuventix

Last month, Austin-based Nuventix ( raised $8M in new funding for the firm's high-efficiency cooling technology, which is being applied to the LED lighting and other markets. The firm has now raised $32M in funding. We spoke with President and CEO Jim Balthazar about the company's technology, how it's been able to garner support from its investors, as well as why its technology is important to the market.

Explain your technology, and why its important for the LED market?

Jim Balthazar: The basic technology is, simply put, a different way to move air for cooling. Some people call it a solid state air mover, or fanless air mover. The real value there, is everyone hates fans and their unreliability, noise, dust accumulation due to air movement. Our technology solves all of those problems. It's very, very reliable--hundreds of thousands of hours, silent all of its life, and cools 50 percent more efficiently than with a fan, with less air. It's applicable to cooling any hot device, such as an integrated chip, or what have you. The solid state lighting market has really jumped on our Synjet technology for all of those attributes. No one wants a fan in their light fixture, we're more reliable than the LED itself, it uses very little power, and stays quiet. So, Synjet has become the de-facto standard for using in ultra-bright LEDs and light fixtures.

LED lighting seems to be a fairly early market--is this something that is shipping in products yet?

Jim Balthazar: It is an emerging market, and they have only been available in the past twelve months or so, because there haven't been LEDs bright enough for illumination. In the past twelve months, we've seen them go from basic prototypes into true production fixtures. For example, I'm here in New York at the largest light show in the United States. In our booth, we have over a dozen, production LED light fixtures, from Cooper, Philips, and other large lighting companies. They're now ready for sale.

It seems like this is pretty advanced technology--where did it originate from?

Jim Balthazar: The technology and concept was invented by an aerospace professor at Georgia Tech. He envisioned a method of using an oscillating diaphragm, to provide a pulse of air to reduce aerodynamic drag. That pulse of air was used to break up the boundary layer on a wing, to fly aircraft smoother. It's like the dimples on a golf ball. The more they worked with it, the figured out that boundary air disruption was also great at removing heat as well. I invested in the technology, which I licensed from Georgia Tech, which owned the patents, for use in thermal management. I put together a business plan in September of 2005, and we have been working hard to commercialize it, prove the reliability, and generate the market we're now involved in.

It looks like you've raised quite a bit to support this?

Jim Balthazar: We have. We've raised $32M since the initial series A, in September of 2005. We're in a good position, as we still have $14M in the bank account. We're well funded and we have cash runway. We're in an enviable position, vis-a-vis many venture backed companies today.

It's interesting, it seem like you have a much more classic venture backed firm, where investors are willing to take and develop a new technology and bring it to market, versus some of the more trendy investments lately?

Jim Balthazar: There are always investors willing to invest in companies that have real, viable products. We have been engaged with Fortune 500 companies, which is one of the unusual aspects of the company--companies such as Philips, and Acuity, and Cooper, the largest lighting companies--who have been validating that we have a strategic component to their future strategy. Getting that validation from large corporations has been one of the impetus for the investor interest.

You've also got a pretty experienced team in this market, don't you?

Jim Balthazar: That's the advantage of having been there, done that. This is my third startup, and hopefully it will be my third successful one. I was able to attract Steve Darbin, who is our experienced VP of Engineering--who has also been there, and done that. Our VP of Sales is Gary Gary, who started with Silicon Labs as employee number 10, and grew them to $500M. We're not young and wet-behind the ears, we've got the experienced management team that we need to pull this off.

What's next up on the plate for you?

Jim Balthazar: We recently got an infusion of cash. Our next step, is to fund additional product improvement -- miniaturization, smaller cooling devices, and driving costs down to get into other markets. We're currently involved in harsh, industrial environments, where fans can't handle those harsh environments, along with lighting. The next step of our market development is in the medical and consumer electronics area--where a more, cost effective approach is desired.